Businessman Gagik Tsarukian expressed readiness to run for president on Thursday ahead of a landmark anti-government demonstration that will be held by his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) and two established opposition groups.
“I have four or five candidates on my mind for a presidential election, who are decent persons and can put the country on the path of development and settle issues,” Tsarukian told journalists. “But if my political partners and the public nominate one of them, then I will be ready to support and stand by him.”
“And if my political partners and the public decide that they need me and my candidacy at that difficult moment, then I will be ready for that as well,” he said.
Tsarukian, who is one of Armenia’s richest men, did not specify whether he is prepared to run in a regular or pre-term presidential election. He declared instead that he will swiftly improve the situation in the country if elected president.
“Within several months pressing problems would be solved and the country would be put on the right path and basis … In all areas people would feel that in their day-to-day life and work,” he said at a joint news conference with Thomas Bach, the visiting president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The BHK leader, who also heads Armenia’s National Olympic Committee, spoke the day before an unprecedented rally in Yerevan organized by his party, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the Zharangutyun party. The three parties have called for regime change during smaller rallies held across the country in the past two weeks. But they have so far stopped short of jointly demanding the conduct of a fresh presidential ballot.
Under the Armenian constitution, Sarkisian is to complete his second and final five-year term in 2018. The opposition trio claims that he is keen to stay in power in another capacity after that.
Tsarukian on Friday confirmed that he will attend and speak at Friday’s rally to be held in Yerevan’s Liberty Square. HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian and Zharangutyun’s Raffi Hovannisian will also address it.
Hovannisian was Sarkisian’s main challenger in Armenia’s last presidential election held in February 2013. He refused to concede defeat, alleging widespread fraud.
Tsarukian was widely expected to be the main opposition candidate in that ballot until he unexpectedly dropped out of the race in December 2012. Observers attributed the move to strong pressure from Sarkisian.
The BHK, which is regarded by some analysts as former President Robert Kocharian’s support base, pulled out of Armenia’s governing coalition earlier in 2012. Tsarukian’s party controls 36 seats in the 131-member National Assembly, making it the second largest parliamentary force.
Meanwhile, President Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) downplayed Tsarukian’s apparent presidential ambitions. Vahram Baghdasarian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader, stressed that the tycoon reputedly close to Kocharian did not explicitly call for a snap presidential vote.
“Who bans Gagik Tsarukian or any other citizen from running [for president?]” Baghdasarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “You, me and others too can run. I don’t think that Gagik Tsarukian referred to pre-term elections.”